(Adds details of plane; edits)
By Sung-won Shim
SEOUL, Jun 18 (Reuters) - South Korean Marines fired rifles at a South Korean commercial aircraft flying near the sea border with North Korea, thinking it was one of the communist North’s jet fighters, but they never hit their target, military sources said on Saturday.
The shooting illustrates the level of tension between the two Koreas, still technically at war after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in a truce rather than a peace treaty, which came close to all-out war last year.
A Marine Corps spokesman said two soldiers guarding an island on the waters off the South’s western city of Incheon fired their K-2 rifles for about 10 minutes at around 4 a.m. on Friday.
The plane was later identified as an Asiana Airlines Airbus A320 flying from China making its descent into Incheon, Seoul’s main airport.
A defence ministry source said the plane, carrying 119 passengers and crew, was undamaged as it was about 500 to 600 metres out of the range of the hand-held K-2 rifles.
Yonhap News Agency and other local media said the soldiers believed the plane was flying north of the normal air corridor. Asiana officials told the news agency the plane never left its schduled course.
“We checked yesterday through the air force and the airport control centre to make sure there were no abnormalities such as being off course,” Yonhap quoted a company official as saying.
An airline official confirmed the plane was an Airbus A320 but made no other comment.
Yonhap and other news reports quoted Marine Corps officers as saying troops would undergo thorough training on how to identify civil aircraft. Airlines will be asked to ensure their planes do not deviate from set courses.
The North denies responsibility in the sinking last March of a South Korean warship and says it was provoked in the second incident, the shelling of the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong after the South test-fired shells into disputed waters.
The two attacks killed about 50 South Koreans.
The North this month rejected a proposal from Seoul for a series of three presidential summits after a secret meeting of officials from the two countries. The North denounced the South’s call for an apology for the two attacks.
In between the attacks, North Korea unveiled a uranium enrichment programme which opens a second route to make a nuclear bomb alongside its plutonium programme.
Reporting by Sung-won Shim; Editing by Nick Macfie